Arsenal Women play their final WSL game of 2022 as they travel to the Midlands to face fifth-placed Aston Villa at Villa Park. Here are three things to keep in mind.
Rachel Daly was Aston Villa’s big signing of the summer and has put Villa ahead of the rest of the WSL. Broadly speaking, the mid-table of the WSL has well-organized teams in good defensive shape. The big difference between Aston Villa, Tottenham and Everton is that Aston Villa have a goalscoring striker. Rachel Daly was often prolific in the NWSL, with Houston, and is the joint top scorer in the WSL this season with 8 goals, albeit 3 from the penalty spot. Even so, 5 goals without a penalty put her level with Sam Kerr (and Frida Maanum). Daly can drop deep to weave, but delights in crosses, served by Alisha Lehmann and Kirsty Hanson. Kenza Dalí joined in the summer and has added creativity to Villa’s midfield. Villa are third in the WSL in crosses into the penalty area per game, with Hanson, Lehmann and right-back Sarah Mayling playing the most per game. Mayling is also Villa’s best forward from the back.
Arsenal have had a tactical revival in recent weeks. With Beth Mead out and Lina Hurtig out, and Mana Iwabuchi out of favour, Katie McCabe has been the right-winger almost by default, as soon as she wasn’t required at left-back. McCabe plays as an inverted full-back on the right wing, which is opposite to how Beth Mead plays on the right. McCabe will operate almost as a third central midfielder or number 10, allowing Vivianne Miedema to move further up. As a result, there is space on the right side. Stina Blackstenius took advantage of that space to create Miedema’s winner against Juventus on Wednesday, with a Blackstenius cross set up by a Leah Williamson dink. Williamson is unlikely to start, having started in midweek, but Rafaelle Souza should return. Rafaelle has the ability to play diagonally, but also plays longer passes down the wing or into the channel.
Stina Blackstenius assisted in Vivianne Miedema’s win against Juventus but has not scored for Arsenal in over a month, most recently netting against Leicester City. In that four-game scoreless streak, Blackstenius has had chances but failed to convert, with a four-game xG of 1.6. The shots have not been lacking; he’s got 13, and he’s been a bit unlucky, having hit the woodwork, but Arsenal will need him to find his scoring boots again. Basically, the underlying numbers are fine, but with two crucial games after Villa, against Lyon and Zurich in the Champions League, a goal for Blackstenius would be very valuable heading into the final stretch of the year’s games.
Player to watch: Laura Wienroither
Laura Wienroither has struggled with Noëlle Maritz’s starting right-back role and has done nothing to cede the role. Now, however, there is a new challenge for Wienroither; with McCabe up front, there’s more room for Wienroither, but also more creative and passing responsibility. One thing Wienroither does very well is being a direct player, including getting into the attack and the final third. With Arsenal’s changes in play, this could be a route to goal, with play building up the left.
Expected lineup (4231): 1. Zinsberger; 26. Wienroither, 3. Wubben-Moy, 2. Rafaelle Souza, 7. Catley; 12. Maanum, 13. Wälti; 15. McCabe, 11. Miedema, 19. Foord; 25. Blackstenius
Subs: 18. Marckese, 5. Beattie, 6. Williamson, 8. Nobbs, 16. Maritz, 23. Iwabuchi, 59. Agyemang
WHAT: Aston Villa Women v Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Villa Park, Birmingham
WHEN: Sunday, December 11th 8:15 AM PDT | 11:15 a.m. EDT | 16:15 GMT
I WILL SEE: Paramount+ (US, streaming), Sky Sports (UK)